Printed Electronics at a ‘Tipping Point’ Print E-mail
Written by Chelsey Drysdale   
Friday, 10 December 2010 23:55

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Printed electronics is seeing a surge in orders, government and industry-funded development programs, acquisitions and company fundraising, says IDTechEx.

It is now at a “tipping point” because of a sharp improvement in performance, price and repertoire, says the research firm.

The potential market for photovoltaics always was for flexible versions, and now many affordable flexible versions are being commercialized, with printing technology used sooner rather than later to save material and deposition cost, and sometimes to improve performance in various respects, including tolerance of light at narrow angles and damage, according to IDTechEx.

Now solar power can be laminated onto a large dirigible. For example, Northrop Grumman has landed an order for $517 million to make one for surveillance from the upper atmosphere that is based on flexible photovoltaics. Delivery is expected in 2012.

Boeing has won $89 million in funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the second phase of the Vulture long-endurance unmanned aerial system UAS program based on flexible photovoltaics. Flight testing is expected in 2014.

At the other extreme, new printed organic and dye-sensitized solar cells are selling well this year, both of them in the form of solar bags that charge your phone, says the firm.

Copper indium gallium diSelenide flexible photovoltaics on solar bags is not yet printed, but nanosolar has just put printed versions into production for various applications.

Also, multilayer printed electronics has been designed into some of the new electric cars to be launched in 2011.

Printed transistor circuits are now lower cost than primitive silicon chips such as timers and basic RFID, the research firm notes. Kovio has landed an order for printed nanosilicon day and single trip paper tickets for the Los Angeles Metro, replacing silicon chip versions at potentially one-tenth the cost. Each has more than 1,000 printed transistors in its circuit.

The China National Railway takes three billion of these ISO 14443 tickets yearly, and is also interested in using the printed version.

RFID antennas, membrane keyboards, battery testers on Duracell batteries, and electronic tamper evidence in packages are printed and orders are increasing, adds the firm. Several are at the one billion units a year level already.

The number of printed electronics startups and acquisitions has increased. Chemical company Rhodia has recently joined with Carbon Trust in a $7 million investment in solar energy startup Eight19 to develop printed organic photovoltaic technology. This will use semiconducting organic polymers to provide solar power at a price substantially lower than that offered by first and second-generation technologies. The solar cells will be similar in appearance to photographic films and be flexible, lightweight and easy to install, says IDTechEx.

Heraeus recently bought HC Starck, maker of conductive polymer ink. Bayer bought Artificial Muscle, which prints elastic electrodes on its electroactive polymer film to make haptic touch switches.

Henkel bought part of ICI to acquire conductive ink and other materials. 3M has invested in Printechnologics, which makes entirely printed electronic products, some of which interact with mobile phones. Also, Solvay is moving into printed electronic materials, says IDTechEx.





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